Eyes still red with tears, her mother brought her away from the MRI room and down a long corridor.
As they walked, she couldn’t restrain her surprise at the utter lack of people in here. Hospitals in her old world were usually more frequented than this. How did the owner stay afloat, with so few patients to cheat out of their money?
Well, no matter.
She closed her eyes and looked inwardly. Within her own mind, her memories of her old life had all been sharpened to perfection. Now, she remembered every second and every moment she had spent on the world called ‘Earth’ just as sharply and clearly and precisely as she did those she was spending on this new world. Yet, those old memories felt clearly different from her new ones, as if there was an intangible barrier between the two, as if she was looking at them through a film projector or something. She had no doubt that this life was a continuation of her old one, that she was the same person in both, but there was also no way for her to mistake which of the two she now belonged to. The gap between them was almost palpable, as if it was saying ‘this ends here; this starts there; the two are separate and shall not meet’.
It brought a certain sense of detachment regarding everything that had happened during her old life, but this truly didn’t bother her too much. Of course this new life was different. That went without saying. The memories of the old were there only to share some of their wisdom, to help her avoid some of the mistakes she’d made in the past, and to give her identity a sense of continuity.
Not only her memories had had time to settle during the night, too.
She wasn’t sure if her senses had reached their maximum potential as determined by the stats she’d selected while rolling her character sheet or if they would keep getting better and better as she grew up, but simply comparing them with the quality of those from her old life already brought the difference into stark relief. Sight was perhaps the most immediately obvious of all. She’d previously needed glasses to see anything further than 5 centimeters in front of her own nose, yet now, everything before her eyes was crystal clear. In fact, almost too much so. She was perhaps not the best person to judge, but were these really the eyes of a normal human being? Even from the tight embrace of her mother’s arms, she could see the grain of the paint covering the walls of the hospital’s hallways; she could see the scuff marks of shoes on the tiled floor. All of her other senses had also improved. The smell of her own body. That of her mother’s. She could even smell her father’s scent on her mother, even though he wasn’t there himself. The smell of disinfectant that hung in the air. All of them tickled her nostrils one after another, often melding together into something even more pungent. Her ears caught the slightest of sounds, from the muffled voices of her father and that mad scientist, back in the MRI room – although she couldn’t quite tell what they were saying – to the voices of children at the end of the hallway, speaking to an adult man, to the breathing and heartbeat in her mother’s chest, to the creaks of her own bones each time she moved. The worst of the lot was perhaps her sense of touch. The rough fabric of her baby clothes was constantly rubbing against her sensitive skin. It was annoying, distracting, almost bordering on painful. If this was going to continue like this, she might have to try exclusively wearing silk or something…
Soon, her mother had brought her to some sort of rest area, where the children whose voices she’d heard earlier were sitting in comfortable padded chairs. Next to them stood a man of arabic descent, with a coarse black beard covering the lower half of his face. Creases at the corners of his eyes made him look like a good-natured man who laughed a lot, and the wide smile on his face as he entertained the two children in front of him easily confirmed that notion.
Of course, she still couldn’t understand anything he said.
And I still don’t know my own name…
When her mother carried her into the room, the three already there turned in their direction, their eyes lighting up in joy when their gazes fell upon the little bundle in her arms.
While she couldn’t guess at the adult man’s identity, she had to assume that the two children, one boy and one girl, were her new siblings. Both of them took strongly after their father, inheriting his blond hair and blue eyes. If it weren’t for the clear age difference between the two – the boy looked around 6 years old, the girl only 4 – they might have been twins.
Will I have blond hair, too? Or will I look more like my mother?
In any case, it didn’t really worry her. Her 94 ‘beauty’ stat would take good care of her when it came to this sort of thing.
Her sister, carrying a rabbit plushie almost as tall as she was, leapt off her seat as soon as she saw her mother enter the room and rushed in their direction. She was wearing a simple t-shirt and boyish shorts, along with a pair of sneakers. She had a bright, happy smile on her face as she started speaking in the same unknown language as everyone else.
# # #
“Oooooh, is that Nova? Hello, I’m Lynn!” Lynn said, waving her hand at the baby in Marian’s arms. “You have to call me Boss from now on, okay?”
Those were the first few words Lynn had to say to her little sister. Marian couldn’t help but wonder if she had made a mistake somewhere in her child’s education, that a 4-year-old would ask to be called as if she were a mafia lord.
Both Ryner and Marian looked at Lynn disapprovingly, but Nova didn’t seem bothered by her sister’s nonsense, which was probably helped by the fact that she just couldn’t understand anything Lynn had just said to her.
Seeing Nova’s complete lack of reaction, Lynn decided to change tactics. She hefted up the rabbit she was holding and presented it to her little sister. “This is Mister Killgore. Do you want to touch him?”
Lynn wagged the rabbit’s head back and forth, and Nova’s green eyes followed it like a pendulum, before she indeed reached out a questing hand to stroke and pet it. If it hadn’t been for the rabbit’s horrible name, the scene would have been perfectly cute.
“Ryner, come here,” Marian called, and her son took a step forward to stand next to Lynn. Marian knelt down to place everyone on the same height and so that Nova could see everyone’s faces. “Now, let’s introduce ourselves properly,” she said with a small smile.
“Oooh, I’ll do it!” Lynn said, jumping up and down and waving her arm in the air. “Lynn! Marian! Mister Killgore! Ryner! Asad!” she said, pointing to each person in turn. Finally, she pointed a finger right at Nova’s small nose, almost brushing against her skin. “Aaaaaand Nova!”
“I wanted to introduce myself on my own,” Ryner said sullenly. “And why did I come after your rabbit?”
“Mister Killgore is obviously more important than you. He’s almost the patriarch of the family,” Lynn replied, her finger still pointing straight at Nova.
The baby seemed to see that as an invitation, because her hand rose up while Lynn was distracted and caught the finger hanging in front of her face, before stuffing it into her own mouth, like she’d done to Marian just yesterday.
The strange sensation seemed to surprise Lynn, and she let out a little shriek before noticing what had happened. “Hiiii! Mommy, she’s biting my finger!”
“So what?” Ryner said, scoffing at his sister squeamishness. “She doesn’t have any teeth, yet. She’s not going to hurt you.”
“But… it’s dirty. What if she gets sick? And she’s staring at me, look! Maybe she thinks I taste weird?”
As her children played together, Marian turned her eyes to Asad, who had been standing to the side to let the family have some time with only each other. “Asad,” she called with a smile. “thank you for taking care of the children since yesterday. It really helped us out.”
Asad laughed happily. “Hahaha! Don’t worry about it, Marian,” he said in the peculiar accent of his home country. “To all of us here, Aaron’s children are like our own. Spending time with them is a pleasure.”
Asad – and Amelia, as well – was one of the researchers her husband had gathered over the years to work in this very same research facility they were currently occupying. More than colleagues, though, all of them were friends. Some were nobles, some commoners, some were alteran while others came from beyond the oceans, but in here, none of these tedious considerations could take hold. In here, all these people only cared about their shared thirst for knowledge.
Marian herself didn’t work here, nor was she a scientist of any sort, but as Aaron’s wife, she had also been introduced to the group, long ago, and had been warmly welcomed.
In fact, as it happened, most of the equipment carried by her own subordinates had been designed and built in this facility, by Aaron and his friends.
Of course, today, no weapons or other strange devices were invented here. All the others had also taken one of their rare days of rest and were impatiently waiting for the party celebrating Nova’s birth to start. Once Aaron was done cleaning up the scan room and rejoined them, everyone would head to the dining hall to meet up with them and begin the revelries.
“Mommyyyyyy, can you tell Nova to let me go?”
Lynn’s plaintive call brought Marian’s attention back to her children. Lynn still had her finger stuck in Nova’s mouth. She probably could have released herself, but it looked like she didn’t dare to be too forceful with a newborn baby.
Chuckling, Marian stroked Nova’s cheek and tried convincing her to show mercy on her older sister. Quickly, Lynn was free, though her finger was sticky with saliva.
“Ewwww. Mister Killgore is going to avenge me! Take this!” Lynn controlled the large rabbit plushie to swing its arm at Nova, and it plopped softly down onto the baby’s head. Like she’d done for Lynn’s finger, Nova tried to grab at the rabbit’s arm, but Lynn was faster and retracted it in time. “Haha! Too slow!”
Then, Lynn did it again several times, always taking back Mister Killgore’s arm before Nova could reach it. She was giggling at her own mischief, but Nova still had the same impassive look on her face, though she was staring at Lynn with an intense gaze.
“She’s not smiling at all,” Lynn complained eventually. “Maybe she doesn’t have a sense of humor?”
“Or maybe you’re the one who’s not funny,” Ryner added in her ear as he stood right behind her, a taunting smirk raising the corners of his lips.
“Hyah!” With no more warning than a wordless cry, Lynn spun around and swung her rabbit so that its legs landed right in Ryner’s face.
Ryner stumbled back a step, more in surprise than anything else. “Oopf!”
“Hahaha! Mister Killgore has punished your villainy! You fiend!”
Marian’s two oldest children started quarrelling again, but after Lynn’s comment on Nova’s lack of a smile, she could feel her own smile turn a bit strained.
Asad seemed to notice this, then Marian’s still reddened eyes, and a faint frown marred his features as his gaze flicked back and forth between Marian and Nova. “Where are Aaron and Amelia, anyway? Did something hold them up?”
Marian considered explaining the situation, but she quickly discarded the idea. At least, she would wait until her children weren’t here to hear it; she didn’t have the courage to risk facing their accusing eyes. Not yet.
She shook her head. “I’ll tell you later, Asad.”
Asad pursed his lips, perhaps guessing at what she was hiding, but he readily nodded. “All right.” Then, he knelt in front of Nova and smiled at her. “Hello, there. I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. My name is Asad Nameer and I’m an astrophysicist with a doctoral degree from the Alteran University of Sciences as an exchange student. I hope we get along well from now on.”
Asad’s absurd introduction to the baby wiped off Marian’s sombre mood. She couldn’t help but laugh. “Are you going to give her your resume, next? Need I remind you that she doesn’t understand you, yet?”
# # #
Nova? Is that my name?
She couldn’t be entirely certain, but after the little girl had pointed at everyone while speaking only one word for each, it felt like a good guess.
So then, Nova’s mother would be Marian. Her older sister, Lynn. Her older brother, Ryner. And that arabic man was… Asad? Maybe? He did look vaguely middle-eastern, and that sounded like what Lynn had said, but there had been too many words in the sentence the man had spoken himself. There had been no way to differentiate which of them was his name, if any of them even was. As for the rabbit, she had a good idea of the phonetics of its name, but she couldn’t map those phonetics to an actual, real name she could recognize from her old world, like she had for those of her family. It might be a made-up word, too; hard to say.
In any case, Nova was a decent name. She really didn’t have any complaint about it. It was a little exotic, but the sound of it was good, and it rolled off the tongue easily enough. Next, she’d just have to see how well it meshed with her family name.
In any case, the first order of business was to grasp the language, both spoken and written. Otherwise, she would have no way to learn anything about the world where she had ended up other than simple observation of her surroundings.
Still, this would take time.
At least, she could tell that this world appeared to possess similar levels of technological prowess as Earth. They had MRI scans – or close enough – and the hospital they were currently in was clean and modern. The same could be said for the clothes everybody was wearing. For now, from what she’d seen of this place in her perspective as a tiny baby, it was pretty much indistinguishable from Earth – minus the language.
Maybe this is Earth in an alternate timeline?
This was better than fantasy, though. Elves and dwarves and magic were all well and good, but for someone with Nova’s experiences, modern civilization would be sorely missed once it was gone, she suspected, and the medieval societies she knew about were not necessarily kind to those who lived within them – especially women.
But then again, thinking about the future, perhaps it was a mistake to let herself grow attached to this world too much. Nova already knew that the god-thing she had met could teleport her between worlds and basically resurrect the dead, so it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to imagine that the trials she would have to face upon her 24th birthday would not take place on this world at all, but in yet another one. Perhaps, she would never come back here again afterwards.
It was a sobering thought.
Nova’s family truly seemed decent, but maybe she should try to aim for a more distant and less emotional relationship, in order to avoid getting hurt once the time to separate came.
She would have to see how things turned out.